Re: Structure and Translation Strategy (was "Negation and discourse prominence [was Romans 7:15]")

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Apr 19 1998 - 07:29:41 EDT

I don't see any way to whittle down the "pre-quential" citations for anyone
who wants to understand my response. Sorry about that. But I want to shift
this discussion into some new territory. It seems to me that this
construction in Romans 7 is of a type that English-speakers find especially
awkward for the reasons (a) that it is very colloquial, and (b) that
English colloquial equivalents for the CONTENT of the clause are structured
differently from the Greek. So I guess my focus here is somewhat removed
from Wes's original question and more upon radical differences in the way
Koine Greek and Colloquial (American?) English express this kind of
content--that's why I've again altered the subject header--and yet I think
that Wes's original question probably arose from precisely this difference.
Is this a question of "transformational linguistics"? Surely the problem is
that in English we THINK the same THOUGHT via a different STRUCTURE from
that wherewith Greek expresses THAT THOUGHT. See if this makes any
sense--and if this is boring to other list-members, Micheal and I can
continue it off-list. Personally I find questions of this sort utterly
fascinating, although they will put others to sleep in a flash.

At 10:14 PM -0500 4/18/98, Micheal Palmer wrote:
>At 11:54 AM -0500 4/14/98, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>>At 10:49 AM -0500 4/14/98, Williams, Wes wrote:
>>>In Romans 7:15,
>>>For what I do not wish, this I practice vs
>>>For what I wish, this I do not practice.
>>>At first glance, it looks like the OU should modify QELW (I do not
>>>want). But a cursory glance at fifteen English translations reveals that
>>>almost all of them take the OU with PRASSW (I do not practice). Why do
>>>most translations take the OU with PRASSW?
>>>Now that I typed the question I think I see the answer, but will pose
>>>the question anyway (many problems are solved by merely identifying the
>>>question). Is it due to the ALLA clause that follows, which contrasts
>>>the above clause with "rather, that which I hate, this I practice?
>>>Therefore, since a contrast is present, it argues that the OU should go
>>>with PRASSW since this would form a contrasting statement. Is this the
>>>reason or is there another?
>>I'd say that the word-order itself and standard usage of hOUTOS forms,
>>especially neuter sg. or pl., to refer to something already mentioned, are
>>pretty solid indications here. The fact that the GAR follows immediately
>>upon the OU, which most normally immediately precedes what is negated, also
>>should be viewed as an indication that it is the whole proposition that is
>>negated here. The force of the word-order is something like: "For it's not
>>what I WANT--not THAT--that I do ..."
>While Carl's translation seems reasonable to me (Doesn't it always?), my
>sense of clause-initial OU in the Hellenistic period is that it negates the
>entire clause in a slightly different way, giving a sense more like this:
> For it's not true that hO` QELW TOUTO PRASSW
> For it's not the case that I do what I wish to do OR
> The proposition "I do what I want to do" is incorrect
>Does this seem wrong to you Carl? Here the entire main clause (including
>both the relative clause hO` QELW and TOUTO PRASSW) is negated, not just
>the relative clause which OU immediately precedes.
>As to the word order, OU falls immediately before the relative clause
>(except for GAR), but this position is also the beginning of the larger
>main clause. The relative clause appears in this initial position because
>it is thematic (a discourse analysis term meaning roughly that even though
>it is not the grammatical subject, it is the focus of of the sentence). The
>presence of the demonstrative TOUTO referring back to the relative clause
>strenghthens this thematic status.
>The placement of OU, then becomes ambiguous. It *could* be negating only
>the relative clause, or the entire main clause (including the relative
>clause). If the author had meant to negate only the relative clause, this
>could have been accomplished by placing it (along with OU) after the the
>main verb, PRASSW, or by placing some other element, such as a subject
>pronoun, before OU to occupy the cause-initial position. Each of these
>strategies would have had a negative impact on the thematic status of the
>relative clause, though.

Michael, I really think you're right about this, and although it may not
seem that my version represents the same manner of construing the Greek as
yours, my tendency in translation into English is generally to endeavor to
reproduce the effect of the Greek word-order to the extent that can be done
without violating intelligible (even if not idiomatic) English word-order
conventions, and this often entails use of expletives, especially, "it
is/it is not." I wrote:

>> The fact that the GAR follows immediately
>>upon the OU, which most normally immediately precedes what is negated, also
>>should be viewed as an indication that it is the whole proposition that is
>>negated here. The force of the word-order is something like: "For it's not
>>what I WANT--not THAT--that I do ..."

So I did say that it was the whole proposition that was being negated, and
in this I think that you and I are in full accord, Micheal, about the
STRUCTURE of OU GAR hO QELW TOUTO PRASSW, but my translation strategy did
not reflect the structure so much as the word-order, and it must be granted
that the effect of the Greek word-order cannot be reproduced without
employing extra fillers. English would require that the force of the
demonstrative TOUTO be positioned in advance of hO QELW as a clear
antecedent and then that the relative pronoun hO be repeated before the
main verb PRASSW, thus:

        For (it is) not THAT THING, which I want, (that) I DO ...

Let me add that some day, perhaps after retirement, I want to study a bit
more closely the similarities/influence of Latin grammar on Koine Greek,
and that one of the things I'd like to look at more closely is precisely
this sort of clause where a relative pronoun and its short clause precede
the demonstrative pronoun which functions as its antecedent and the verb
comes at the end of the clause, of this type, which I've noticed especially
in Propertius, whose diction often seems as colloquial as that of Plautus,
although there are almost 200 years between them:


Idiomatic English for this is: "What you love, we all love"--but in English
we use "what" with the force of a combined demonstrative and relative and
are therefore enabled to omit anything corresponding to the weak
demonstrative ID. When the above construction is negated, what happens?


Now I think this is pretty closely parallel to the Pauline construction in
Rom 7, but the idiomatic English equivalent is "It's not what you love that
we all love." Here we've added the expletive "It's" in front, and while we
retain the "what" which combines the force of the relative and
demonstrative pronouns of the Latin, we must also add a new relative
pronoun "that" in the English version. I'm speaking, of course, of
colloquial English; more formal English would have to be, "What you love is
not what we all love" or "We don't all love what you love."

Does this make any sense, Micheal?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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